Force eye unlikely ally to keep O'Connor - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Force eye unlikely ally to keep O'Connor

By Justin Chadwick 27/05/2009 04:51:06 PM Comments (0)

As strange as it sounds, the Western Force's hopes of retaining teen sensation James O'Connor rests with the South African Rugby Union.

Rumours are rife O'Connor will follow Matt Giteau to the ACT Brumbies next season, with the Canberra-based franchise also poised to sign flanker Rocky Elsom.

But Western Force general manager of rugby Mitch Hardy is adamant O'Connor will remain in Western Australia if the Force can secure Stormers five-eighth Peter Grant.

However, Grant will not join the Force unless he is given permission by SARU to play for an Australian franchise and still be eligible for Springbok selection.

Grant, who is desperate to add to his five Test caps, was recently selected in South Africa's 29-man squad for an upcoming fixture against a Namibian Invitation XV.

If the Force fail to secure Grant or someone of a similar calibre, O'Connor is as good as gone.

"James has clearly stated that he's waiting to see who the No.10 is for the Force next year and as soon as we've got a No.10 secured he'll make his decision," Hardy said.

"I would like to think that if we sign Grant it would satisfy James' issue there.

"He (Grant) is still our No.1 option and we are waiting to hear back from him at the moment.

"I think he's still waiting to see whether he can play Super 14 in Australia and still be eligible to play for South Africa.

"That's a big thing for him, so we are going to be fairly flexible with that negotiation.

"I'm expecting an email or a phone call over the next couple of days to finalise things there."

O'Connor, who was selected in the Wallabies' 29-man squad for upcoming Tests against the Barbarians, Italy and France, is yet to agree to a new deal with the Australian Rugby Union.

And the 18-year-old may hold off on a final decision - both with the ARU and any potential Super 14 suitors - until the end of June in the hope his value will soar even further in the meantime.

Hardy believed O'Connor's Wallabies aspirations would be best served at the Force, where he could play at either fullback or inside centre.

"We'd give him the opportunity to have the best of both worlds," he said.

"We're not saying he's got the pick of either/or but we're saying we'll manage him in such a way where he can have the opportunity to excel at either position so that he keeps his Test options open."

And with Giteau now gone, Hardy said the Force had the ability to make O'Connor the face of the franchise.

"Certainly I think he's got the potential to really market himself for the game, both on a national level and in WA," he said.

"For him it's about us giving him the tools that he needs to maximise his commercial potential. A number of people at the club will help him do that."

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